The federal government’s drug policy chief and Sen. Angus King will headline a roundtable in Maine next week to discuss strategies for dealing with the state’s opioid addiction crisis.

The forum on Tuesday comes the day before a drug summit convened by Gov. Paul LePage. King’s office said the senator’s roundtable isn’t intended to upstage LePage and that the date was dictated by the schedule of National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli. Representatives from the offices of Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin will be at the roundtable, though no state officials or lawmakers have been invited.

A King spokesman said the exclusion of state-level officials is intentional.

“Once our office has a better understanding of how federal policies can be improved, we look forward to engaging with state officials to see how we can coordinate a response,” Scott Ogden said.

The two conferences come on the heels of grim news about drug addiction and overdoses in Maine. Overdose deaths are on a pace to top 2014’s record numbers and LePage said he decided to convene his summit after hearing about 14 heroin overdoses in Portland during a 24-hour period during the first weekend in August.

King’s office said the independent senator’s decision to hold a meeting grew out of a conversation on heroin addiction he had in late July with Botticelli. King and Botticelli will be joined by prevention and treatment experts, people recovering from drug addiction, families facing addiction issues, health care providers, law enforcement officials and others at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Brewer on Tuesday.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Friday that the governor’s office wasn’t informed directly about King’s event. She said LePage’s office learned about the senator’s roundtable Thursday when a state official was copied on an email about the event from the Maine Medical Association.

Ogden, King’s spokesman, said the two forums are different. King is focusing primarily on federal programs for the prevention and treatment of drug addiction, Ogden said. LePage’s focus is on keeping drugs out of the state, Bennett said, although she noted that a handful of experts on treatment and prevention of drug addiction also will be at the governor’s summit.

Ogden said the list of participants in King’s forum won’t be confirmed until Monday, but he said the attendees will include some law enforcement representatives, as well as those working to treat addiction.

“Our intention is that it be a balance,” he said.

Bennett said the governor’s focus on combating the drug trade is aimed at “disrupting the flow of gangs to Maine” and is based on the belief that reducing the amount of drugs circulating will lead to fewer overdoses and less addiction.

State lawmakers this year gave LePage only half of the number of drug agents and drug court judges that he requested, Bennett said. Wednesday’s roundtable will highlight the need for more resources to fight drug dealers, and follow-up meetings will refine the state’s efforts to fight drugs and develop budget priorities for future years, she said. The administration believes that drug treatment and prevention efforts have been adequately funded, Bennett said, with more than $70 million earmarked for those programs in the state’s 2015-16 budget.

 


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